Without music to decorate it, time is just a bunch of boring production deadlines, or dates by which bills must be paid – Frank Zappa
And whist Zappa wasn’t specifically speaking about 1989, I’ve always been terribly smitten with the concept of recorded sound as punctuation. As some sort of definite context; the significant albums of this particular year marking the route, straight through. Which makes it a little weird to be identifying Pretty Hate Machine – the début Nine Inch Nails album – as an ’80’s record. Because there’s a tension here that’s pre-millennial in construct. A very specific brand of abrasion. And whilst it’s easy to dismiss the whole Trent Reznor schick – the lyrical juvenalia, the shock rock undertones – there’s an astute synth-pop record peeking through the mist. A punchy sort of equilibrium, referencing Reznor’s appreciation and understanding of British electronica from earlier in decade. Best known for the sharp voltage of ‘Head Like A Hole’, the stand-out track to these ears has always been ‘Something I Can Never Have’ – fragile and haunting.
Elsewhere, and amidst all that unctuous hair metal smeared all across the airwaves like fake tan: Dum Dum by The Vaselines. Me And A Monkey On The Moon by Felt. The The, and Matt Johnson’s Mind Bomb record. And no mention of ’89 is complete without Snowball, the first album by The Field Mice; a delicious reflection of the melancholic, the tender, the wistful – a wee treasure.
Hup, The Wonder Stuff’s second long player is also their last before a shift towards the fiddle-heavy raggle-taggle bleh of subsequent discs. Interest piqued to the point of over-exposure at the time, this isn’t something that frequently on the turntable these days – which might just be my loss; not every track transcends the distance, but there’s a few items on display (particularly on the second side) that still press buttons.
I mentioned The Wonder Stuff in 1988’s post; every trawl through a twelve month period as featured on these pages contains gratuitous reference to the same old acts. Sittin’ Pretty by The Pastels. Bizarro by The Wedding Present (my favourite of theirs). Spacemen 3’s Playing With Fire. And whilst I’m yet to mention Galaxie 500 in this series – On Fire released this year – they have appeared on a previous episode of LGM; so it goes.
And then there’s Doolittle. I genuinely do have a Pixies post in the pipeline. Centred in part around getting on the guest list for their first London gig since reformation, then becoming so horrified at the prospect of fat, old people doing karaoke that I instead spent the entire night down the pub. So yeah: Doolittle. A slab of an album in terms of place in the indie firmament, ‘Debaser’ and ‘Monkey Gone To Heaven’ both indie disco ubiquity. Yet it’s also a fascinating album, franked by a biblical allegory that provides an edge of apocalyptic allure. Yes; more words on this subject in the future, me thinks.
I usually end these Significant Albums posts by riffing about a certain record. A collection of songs that encapsulate something of the age – acts as a pointer, or an aide-mémoire. If Offspring #1 was writing this, he’d spend a few thousand words extolling the virtues of Nirvana’s Bleach. And when I was his age I was listening to an album with pretty much the same degree of intensity. Over and over, like the monkey with miniature cymbals.
I’ve written about Disintegration by The Cure on more than one occasion. The apparel of overkill – for example: the eulogy for ‘Plainsong‘ that appeared on this site is pretty much all that needs to be said on the topic of Disintegration. A record that wraps itself in layers of dense atmosphere; a sort of gas giant weather system, or a distant figure swirling on the hillside. For my money this is also the last great Cure album – they should have split after this, if only because as with the juddering intricacy of a medieval cathedral, embellishment can only detract.
Next; discussion around this deliberate exclusion of The Stone Roses début may now take place in the comments section.
Nine Inch Nails / Something I Can Never Have (Still Version)
The Field Mice / Sensitive
The Wedding Present / Kennedy
Pixies / Gouge Away (Live)